Saturday, February 22, 2020


One ounce of silver, issued by the Bank of Mongolia.

For when it comes time to go down the rabbit hole.


...and another tree down.

This tree fell at 6:33 a.m., when my morning walk would normally place me right beneath.  

But I slept twenty minutes late...


Van Stein: Liechtenstein

I had hoped to scribble my mad thoughts in private, but when I descend to Edelweiss’s breakfast room with my leather journal in hand, JL, Mazey and Van Stein are already seated, eyeing me with incredulity after our imaginary friend psychoanalysis over dinner.

They’ve stopped talking.  What were they talking about? 

Our mission this day is to visit Liechtenstein, a tiny principality about 60 miles north. 

It is important to me, in the context of my day job, to visit all of Europe’s odd pockets, the microstates, and Liechtenstein will complete the set.

The views, weaving through mountains and valleys, are ceaselessly spectacular, if road signs are brutally German. 

Our destination is much less spectacular. 

In fact, Liechtenstein is downright anti-climactic, evoking memories of Andorra, and of San Marino, to which I’d trekked six months earlier, not with Van Stein in search of creativity and madness, but with JL, on princely microstate business.

At least San Marino has a little culture:  two torture museums and a wax freak show.  Liechtenstein possesses nothing—except for a Transylvania-like castle that hangs precariously from a mountainside.

Van Stein quickly dashes off a dismal landscape; JL, Mazey and I take refuge in Hotel Sonnenfeld’s parlor for coffee. 

A revelatory discussion clarifies how two parallel paths in my life have unexpectedly crossed:  my madness stuff is getting serious and my serious stuff is going mad. 

Photo: Van Stein

On the drive back, every time we pass an Ausfahrt sign Van Stein whoops, “Exit-stenchtialism!”

...a link, perhaps, to expulsion therapy?

Friday, February 21, 2020



The scenery–a mountain range of magnificent craggy peaks—turns astonishing as we approach Switzerland and enter the Upper Engadine Valley, itself six thousand feet above sea level.

Just before 2:30 we glide into Sils Maria, a serene, unassuming village between two lakes, surrounded by mountains, praised by Nietzsche as “heroic and idyllic.”

Almost immediately, we locate Neitzsche Haus, once a guesthouse where Nietzsche summered, now a museum devoted to his memory. 

It is a yellowish chalet, set back from the street, its nine front windows framed by teal blue shutters adorned with flower boxes filled with red geraniums. 

On this day, Monday, it is closed.

Next door, Hotel Edelweiss beckons us to check in. 

Nietzsche stayed here, says the receptionist, evidenced by a page from an antique hotel guest registry dated June 1883 that bears the German philosopher’s signature, framed on the wall next to reception lest anyone question their veracity.

We dump our bags and minutes later re-group for a hike to Chaste, a rugged peninsular on the lake which features, according to our hotelier, the rock Nietzsche frequented for inspiration.

We walk briskly, among brisk walkers to-ing and fro-ing—and nose blowing—in all directions, until we reach a lonely rock near Lake Segl. 

“Is this it?” I ask.

“Must be,” says Van Stein.  “Here, look at this.  Some kind of medallion embedded in the rock.”

A flying saucer within a pyramid inside an orb. With this inscription: Landes Vermessung.  

German for The Forgotten Landscape.

“This is where Nietzsche made contact with space aliens!” yelps Van Stein.

We walk further into the a-bliss, onto Chaste, a preserve of rocky trails and wilderness and oxygen-rich mountain air, as pure and chaste as Iceland.

We leave Van Stein to his paints and brushes, stroll back to the village for hot chocolate in the local bakery, and a discussion of JL’s troubles stemming from his secret work for Tubby Tompkins as my recruit.

He and Mazey steal away for a round of rootle and I ensconce myself on my room balcony overlooking a fast-moving stream, bare-chested, basking in sunset and pealing church bells.

Soon, Van Stein trucks forth, stopping in front of Nietzsche’s house with camera for a spot of early evening orb hunting.  

He sees me, points his camera upward.  “Ah, you’re doing Pablo Picasso.”

Our foursome ascends a winding road up steep hill that leads to Hotel Waldhaus, a fortress-like structure that lords over Sils Maria.  

More civilized than I, JL suggests a table in the lounge for an aperitif.

“I like to drink in a real bar,” I say, guiding the action into a wood panelled barroom with plain square tables.

A whiskey later, we’re whisked into the dining room and fawned over by obsequious wait staff led by Felix the Chef, who somehow knows that JL is part of Monaco’s royal family.

I ask about local lake fish, but the waiter’s peculiar expression suggests I go a different direction, so Carre d’Agneau for four, complimented with a bottle of Pomerol.

“I want to open my own clinic, not work in an institution,” says Mazey.  “Brain doctors now rely too much on medication.  They make fun of their patients, create nicknames for them, and laugh at them.  If I were locked up like that for six months I’d end up insane.  It’s quite horrifying.”

I nod self-indulgently.  “Maybe you can help me with something strange going on in my mind?”

“No, I can’t really,” says Mazey.  “I’m not allowed to treat you.”

“I don’t want to be treated,” I say.  “I’d just like your opinion.”

“No, I’d be reluctant to venture an opinion.”

“Are you allowed to listen?”

“Yes, I suppose I can listen, but don’t expect me to respond.”

“Of course not.”

I take my fellow diners back to when I was five years old, to my imaginary friend with red hair and freckles.  Then I fast-forward to the present, to my recent epiphany, encountering my imaginary friend as a real person.

 “So, let’s hear your overview in ten sentences,” I push Mazey.

“It’s so complicated," she wades in anyway. "It’s extremely deep, less the neurological side, very psychoanalytical, an extremely intimate dimension of the personality.  It stems back from very early development, the relationship with parents, and that’s all I’m going to say.”  She pauses.  “It’s extremely pathological because the earlier the origin, the worse it is.”

“Path-illogical?” says Van Stein.

“Good gracious,” I say.  “Would drugs help?”

“I don’t do drugs.  It could take ten years to work out.”

“But isn’t that a good reason for drugs?  I can’t wait ten years.  We need to resolve this during the course of dinner tonight.”

“It’s like asking a surgeon to do an operation at a table,” says Mazey.

“Okay,” I say.  “What if I was choking on a piece of meat?  If there was a surgeon at the table and the Heimlich manoeuvre didn’t work, the surgeon would conduct an on-the-spot tracheotomy.”

“You think this is something you can talk about over a glass of wine?” says Mazey. 

“I’d actually prefer to talk about it over a dry martini,” I say.  “But wine will suffice.”

“If I operated like that, I’d make myself more ill than my patients.”

“All right,” I say.  “So, if you can’t comment as a professional, can you at least pass judgment as an individual?”

“I can’t and I won’t.”

“But wouldn’t it be terrible if you could cure me but refrain from doing so on principle?”

“You have to get to know your patients in your office,” says Mazey.

“Yes, but I bet you wouldn’t serve wine in your office.  If I’m ever to resolve this, trust me, it will be over a bottle of wine.”

“Maybe she is still imaginary?” JL offers.

“Thomas has seen her, too,” I say.

“So maybe you’re both imagining her,” says JL.

“A Jungian collective hallucination? No, she exists,” I say.  “And she’s the same person as the imaginary friend from my childhood.  Here’s what I think:  When I was a kid, I had a premonition of someone I would meet much later in life.”

“Does she represent an ideal?” asks Mazey.

I consider this.  “Yes.  I’m very taken by how smart she is.  She’s very intelligent, and well organized, and mature for her age.  I’m impressed by that.”

“She knows how to mix drinks,” adds Van Stein. 

“That’s a good point,” I say, attempting to over-ride Van Stein’s mirth-at-my-expense.  “When I first met her, she was mixing drinks behind a bar.  I noticed that when she was present, even if her manager was around, she was in control.  I was impressed by her situational awareness, the command she had over everything going on around her.  To a point where I even said to her, I don’t know what you’re hoping to do in life, but you will be very successful.  In our conversations the past few weeks, the depth of her intelligence, her awareness, at so young an age, made an impact on me, along with how in tune we are with one another.  She’s very organized, color-codes everything she’s doing.  I’m purple.  And she’s one of the few people who actually knows how to use a semi-colon.”

“So what?” says Van Stein.  “I use my whole colon.”

“There’s definitely an idealistic element in this,” says Mazey. 

“She’s a vegetarian,” I say.  “I’ve had discussions with vegetarians before, but I’ve never been so close to changing my own eating habits, listening to her reasoning.”

“But you just ate lamb chops!” hoots Van Stein. 

“Yes, but I’m not happy about it.”

“I’ve already given him my own opinions,” adds Van Stein.

“What is it?” asks Mazey.

“I can’t divulge that, it’s a doctor-patient confidentiality thing,” says Van Stein sternly.  “All right, one time only.  I told him he’s a highly creative individual and there are multi-facets to him that I’m still learning about, and because of where he is in his age category, maybe he’s experiencing chemical changes in his body and going through male menopause.  When men reach their 50s they are looking at young women.”

“You’re absolutely right,” says Mazey.

“Hold on,” I say.  “You’re misinterpreting this as a sexual thing.  This is way cooler than sex. Look, I talk for hours and hours with someone three times over a ten-day period.  And then I wake up with the realization that she is the imaginary friend from my childhood. This isn’t a leave-your-wife-and-run-off-with-a-younger-woman deal.”

“I understand that,” says Van Stein.  “The mind can play tricks.  You might be unconsciously projecting something that has been dormant for many years and it’s time for you to try to live out that fantasy in some way, shape or form.  Are you projecting your unfinished business onto somebody else because it’s time for that?  Just look at it for what it is, you don’t have to act on it, just say, Isn’t that interesting?”

“I hear you,” I say.  “But, but she was my imaginary friend.  There’s simply no question about that.”

“Maybe you were tapping into her soul,” says Van Stein, “and she had a soul agreement with you to manifest years later.”

“Now you’re talking!” I say.  “This is a supernatural situation.  Maybe this is why I’ve always been drawn to movies with similar themes. There’s an obscure movie called Made in Heaven, about a couple that meets in heaven.  Suddenly, it’s time for the female to be reincarnated on earth.  The male is inconsolable, his love for her so deep.  So, they cut him a deal:  You can be re-born before your time, go after her, but neither of you have any memory down on earth of having known one another in heaven, and you have to cross paths with her by chance before your 30th birthday or it’s all over and any spark of recognition will be gone forever.   Neil Young wrote the theme song, We Never Danced.  Well, we’re dancing now.

“And there’s something else:  My imaginary friend come-to-life gave me a novel to read called Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins.  Many times, I almost bought this book in bookstores, but refrained at the last minute.  It’s almost like I had to wait until she, my imaginary friend, gave it to me.  I start reading it–this is just in the last ten days—and I immediately adore this book for its sense of whimsy.  The theme throughout is How to make love stay.  I was almost halfway through when I woke up with the epiphany about her being my imaginary friend.  The ending is very unpredictable, another reason I like this book so much, and when it arrives, it is sublime.”

“What was the conclusion?” asks Mazey.

I have to steady myself.

“Got an issue?” says Van Stein.  “Here’s a tissue.”

I sip from my glass of water.  “It ends with this line:  It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

Van Stein turns to JL.  “Now do you believe in orbs?”

“I believe in orbs.”

“I found my imaginary friend,” I say.

“That’s a lot of things to take in over a couple of weeks,” says Mazey.

“And we want an answer tonight,” says Van Stein.

“How do you feel now?” asks Mazey.  “Do you feel lost in it all because you don’t know what to make of it?  Do you feel content where you are with it?”

“Very content,” I say, returning Mazey’s eyeball grip with equal resolve.  “Because I think it’s fun, and magical, and stimulating.”

“It’s easy to blame things on external things–people and forces.  But the answer is inside of you.”

“But what if there is an ether world out there,” I say.  “Something very few people tune into, and those who cannot understand it are compelled to perceive it only as psychosis?”

“I believe what you’re talking about is incorporated into psychoanalysis,” says Mazey.

“So, you’re saying I’m nuts?  The important thing to understand here is that she really is my imaginary friend.  There’s no question, she’s the same soul I dialogued with when I was five years old.  And since this is a physical impossibility, because she wasn’t born yet, it becomes a metaphysical question.”

“That’s the case for you,” says Mazey, “for you, for you.  There’s a root to everything, and it’s not mystical–it’s either medical or scientific.  I can’t ask the question, Is it visionary?  Because there’s a psychoanalytical explanation to everything.”

“So, you’re doomed,” says Van Stein, pounding his fist in the absence of a gavel.  “Sentenced to ten years of psychoanalysis.”

Thursday, February 20, 2020


As we (JL and Mazey Sunshine, Van Stein and me) continue to roll toward Nietzsche-land, I dig into my holdall and retrieve a notebook. 

“I’ve read through about two hundred Nietzsche quotes and culled them down to a dozen for discussion time.  

"Here’s the first:  A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.  Anyone want to start?”

No one wants to start.

So, I start myself.  

“I think he’s saying when you see madness up close, it’s difficult to have faith in God.  Anyone else?” 

No one. 

“Next:  Insanity in individuals is something rare–but in groups, parties, nations and epochs it is the rule.  He’s saying, I think, he doesn’t care much for people.”

“I bet he wasn’t the life of the party,” says Van Stein.

“If Nietzsche happened to be at a party, and I doubt he went to any by choice, he’d be sitting in a corner by himself, looking around at everyone in disdain, shaking his head at the mediocrity around him.  Okay, next one:  No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

“The hell does that mean?” says Van Stein.  “Why would you choose that one out of over two hundred quotes?”

“My own psychological reasons.”

“Does it have to do with personal responsibility?” says Van Stein.

“It means you’re better off a bum on the street than earning a large salary doing something that makes you unhappy.  It means, you’re better off spending your days doing something that’s passionate to you rather than doing someone else’s bidding, even at the cost of slimming down your lifestyle.”

“That’s bullshit,” says JL.  “Ninety percent of the population does a job because they have to do it.”

“I think it’s higher than ninety percent,” I say.  “Nietzsche would see that as tragic, which is why he thought man was mediocre and held no hope for the world.  Next:  Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself.”

“Oh, yeah,” says Van Stein.  “Have you ever been to a party and someone just can’t shut up?  They talk-talk-talk-talk-talk-talk, there’s no gap between their sentences, their minds are racing a hundred miles an hour.  And by the end of the evening you think, What the hell was that?  You don’t know who that person was, only what they were spewing.”

“That sounds like you,” says JL.

“No,” I say.  “It’s the ninety-ten rule.”

“The what?” says Van Stein.

“In the intelligence business, you’ll give away ninety percent genuine information to get the enemy to swallow ten percent disinformation.

“Next,” I say.  You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.”

“Phoenix rising out of the ashes,” says Van Stein.  “Every dark cloud has a silver lining.”

“Do you always speak in clich├ęs?  Let’s define chaos,” I say.  “In your mind, you’ve got all kinds of influences that seem difficult to reconcile.  Out of all these contradictions and paradoxes, after a mulching period, comes the epiphany, that dancing star, the creative idea.”

“When I paint a painting,” says Van Stein, “it starts off in the abstract.  It looks chaotic; I don’t know what’s going to happen.  But eventually there’s order.  The chaos is transformed into a finished painting.”

“During a trip like this,” I say, “all the thoughts and feelings and experiences are total chaos in my mind and it’s like, how am I ever going to make sense of this in a way I can convey to others in writing?  But I sit down, open a vein, and out of the chaos a dancing star eventually appears.  And what I’ve discovered is, the more chaos I begin with, the better the end result.  Okay, next one:  There is always some madness in love.  But there is always some reason in madness.”

“What’s the but?” says Van Stein.

“There is reason in madness, so there is reason in love,” says Mazey.

“Isn’t love a kind of temporary insanity?” I say.  “Scientists have uncovered a chemical effect in our bodies when we fall in love.  Un-returned love can make a person crazy–drive them to stalking, murder and suicide.”

“But there is some reason in love,” says Van Stein.

“No, there’s reason in madness.”

“But there’s also reason in love.”

“Nietzsche didn’t say that,” I say.  “He said there’s some madness in love and some reason in madness.”

“Madmen always see a reason for their actions,” says Mazey.

“Does true reason exist outside of morality?” says Van Stein.

“No-no-no, yeah-yeah,” says dear Mazey.

“What happens when you’re suddenly in love?” I say.

“You get an erection,” says JL.

“Then you’ve lost sight of reason,” I say.

“Does Nietzsche ever define insanity or madness?” asks Mazey.

“He’s left it just vague enough,” says Van Stein.

“What is it?” says Mazey.  “Something that does not conform to a norm?  Is it something unknown, something that evokes fear?”

“What, love?” says JL.

“No, insanity,” says Mazey.

“Which brings us to Nietzsche’s next quote,” I say.  A matter that becomes clear ceases to concern me.”

“That’s his comfort zone,” says Van Stein.

“He’s saying,” I say, “nnce I figure something out, I move on.  The painting is finished.”

“He was not at peace much,” says Van Stein.

“The only time he was at peace was when he was out walking,” I say.  “Which leads us to, All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.   That’s how he conceived his philosophy, by walking.”

Says Van Stein, “What about some of the great minds that have no capacity to walk, that are confined to wheelchairs, like Stephen Hawking?  What he should have said was, What works for me  What an egotist!”

“I must say,” says Mazey.  “I feel very honored to be included on one of these trips.  Go on, next one.”

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others would say in a whole book.”

“Tennish anyone?” says Van Stein. 

“It should be,” I say, “my ambition this trip to define Nietzsche in ten sentences.”

“Someone I know defined existentialism in ten words,” says Van Stein.  Human beings are not things; one must always choose freely.”

“Next:  The best weapon against an enemy is another enemy.  Get your enemies whacking away at each other.  Next:  The true man wants two things:  danger and play.  For that reason, he wants woman, as this is a most dangerous plaything.”

“He’s a male chauvinist,” says Mazey.

“No,” says Van Stein.  “He’s a sexistentialist!”

God is dead.”

“God was never alive,” says JL.

“Nietzsche seems to imply that God once lived,” I say.   “But I think what he meant was the concept of God is dead, or should be dead.”

“Or could be dead,” says Van Stein.  “He doesn’t know shit!  Are we in Switzerland yet?”

“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

“You have to suffer to get where you want to go,” says Mazey.

“Welcome adversity as a character-builder,” I say.

“That should be in every martyr’s handbook,” snaps Van Stein.  “He’s great at throwing out one-liners, but he doesn’t put anything into context.”

“Next is an analysis of Nietzsche and Goethe’s thoughts on the need for an enemy:  What if you have an enemy who is not just some mean, despicable, carping person, but a capable person who, for some reason or other, has got it in for you, and perhaps quite justifiably?  One could perhaps say that a real enemy who is out to harm you can do more for you than even a guru, because a guru may put you through it and make you suffer, but you know all the time–or at least you try to tell yourself–that it is for your own good.  You know that he doesn’t really mean to hurt you.  But to be truly patient under real provocation is much more difficult.  A guru can’t do that for you.  For this reason enemies are valuable.  Nietzsche said one should choose one’s enemies with care, that an enemy is quite a positive and valuable element in life, and that you very rarely get on without a few good enemies to spur you on and keep you stirred up and prevent you from stagnating.”

Says Van Stein, “I think he means enemas.  Try to have as many enemas as possible to keep you sharp.”

“What’s an enema?” asks Mazey.

“It’s when you’re constipated so hard you have blockages and it’s starting to turn your body toxic.  So they insert a tube up your rectum and put in liquid to soften the stool.  You’re a doctor, you can handle this.”

“I’m a doctor of the head,” says Mazey.  “My job is to stop the bowels from getting into a state.”

“The problem, Mazey,” I say, “is that Van Stein has a tendency to think with his bowels.  So, JL, how are we going to find a formidable enemy?”

“That’s a problem,” says JL, “because the only enemies we have are f------ idiots.”

I shake my head. “The people hanging onto Tubby’s coattails are not stupid. They know a gravy trail when they see one. Never underestimate parasites—sucking blood is in their genes."